View Full Version : real-world urban cartographic software?

06-05-2007, 09:53 PM
Hi, gang! I'm wondering if any carto-philes out there have experience with real-world urban cartography software and, if so, what those programs might be. I'm assuming USGS folks and the like use a combination of Autocad/Illustrator/Photoshop, but I'd love to hear definitively from someone *in the know.*

My reason for asking: I'm not crazy about any of the gaming-oriented mapping software. I'd much rather use the real deal (though I understand Autocad is about the price of a used car--yikes!). My goal is to create city maps that are a combination of USGS-style work and historical maps (think: Chronicles of Nuremberg or the like in combination with any of a number of historical atlases).

On a secondary note, I've seen *a few* published gaming maps that I also really enjoy (Wizards of the Coast's Cityscape maps by Mike Schley) and would love to be able to achieve that sort of look. To that end, I've contacted a few graphic designers in my area to ask them if they can reverse-engineer the look and turn it into a tutorial so that I can go through the process myself. You know the aphorism: "Give a man a fish...Teach a man to fish..."

...So, for bonus points (and hoping I'm not violating board T.o.S., here), I'll post that question, too: Can any G.D.'s out there take a look at a few map samples (which I can either post or PM) and be able to tell me which software was used and in what fashion? I'm really speaking to the hardcore professionals now, as I'm desperate for publishable-quality design.

Okay, I hope I didn't run at the keys too much. I know there are some great folks around these parts and I'm really looking forward to your responses.

And to Robbie: Thanks again for this great site!

-Leonid (a.k.a. Greg)

06-05-2007, 10:29 PM
ArcGIS is the main high-end mapmaking software package. Desktop GIS would be the flavor you're looking for.


That you have to call their sales department rather than just order the thing online says that the cost is probably not inconsiderable.

06-05-2007, 11:26 PM
When I used to work for a local general contractor who had military contracts we did all of are mapping in AutoCAD and MicroStation. The local utility company that I need a bunch of GPS work for used only AutoCAD with GPS data input. Of course this was about a decade ago, but from what I've heard it has changed very little with the exception of new AutoCAD add-on packages that allow more specialized uses.

That said you are correct the pricing for this software is out of range of most 'hobbyists', but if you are going to do work that will get you paid in addition to the hobby then nothing less would be expected.

06-05-2007, 11:54 PM
Hi, gang! I'm wondering if any carto-philes out there have experience with real-world urban cartography software

It really depends on what you want to depict.

Terrain/contour maps from either real world measurement or DEMs use very different tools then say, city street mapping, or utility (sewer/water) mapping. What specific applications are you interested in? (The company I work for mainly uses ArcGIS for high end GIS work as well...)

Software tools are only the latest evolution of the pencil and pen :)

-Rob A>

06-07-2007, 02:42 PM
Thanks, everyone, for the replies so far. I've been noticing a trend in pro-level cartography software: it is designed to be used with real-world data. This tends to put a damper on things for those of us who map imaginary worlds. The "best" program I've so far found to bridge that gap is Ocad (http://www.ocad.com/en/index.htm). As luck would have it, however, I know very little of Ocad, except that I love its road lay-out feature (it has automatic intersection, which would otherwise have to be done manually, it seems, in software such as Illustrator).

As far as the types of maps Iím going for, I like the old city maps that show entire city blocks in relief relative to the roads, or ones that each building in relief, too. Hereís a fantasy example of my desired end result: http://www.wizards.com/dnd/images/mapofweek/Nov2006/01_Cityscape_72_f2y9f2_ppi.jpg, which I found on this page: http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/mw/20061101a

And here is a link to a screenshot from the aforementioned Ocad that shows a city in the style Iíd like (Iíve seen this style in many different pocket travel guides): http://www.ocad.com/en/ocad_screenshots.htm. Iíve found it very difficult to use Illustrator to draw boxes like those from the example on the Wizardsís site that are not only not uniform, but that are aligned to the streets they face. Ocad suggests you can do it with their software, but I don't know if this is industry-standard stuff (and I don't think it is). Maybe, as RobA said, I should remember that paper-and-pen skills are really where it all begins....

06-07-2007, 04:53 PM
You may be interested in talking to another of our new members, Flyingmonkey.

You can find out why by visiting this thread:


06-07-2007, 05:03 PM
I work for a high-end custom cartography firm, and we never even sniff GIS apps. They don't produce attractive maps at all. 99% of the work we do here is based in Illustrator and Photoshop (primarily Illustrator).

For what it's worth.


06-08-2007, 01:46 AM
What a great suggestion to look up Flyingmonkey. Sounds like a guy after my own heart. I think I shall PM him.

Speaking of PM'ing--HandsomeRob: I LOVE the maps on your website. That's exactly the look I'm hoping to achieve (i.e., realistic but with a fantastic twist). I'm now going to read your tutorial!

I've also signed up for some summer courses at the local community college. I'm hoping to acquire a brand-new set of skills. Does anyone have any suggestions for courses/programs/books/tutors to which I should look in the future?

Thanks again!


P.S. I'll post a map or two once I can get something about which I feel marginally comfortable.

06-10-2007, 05:00 PM
... (it has automatic intersection, which would otherwise have to be done manually, it seems, in software such as Illustrator).Actually, it can be done quite automatically in Illustrator. I talk about one of the techniques here (http://www.cartographersguild.com/viewtopic.php?p=1559#1559).
If I understand what you are looking for, that is.

06-11-2007, 12:31 PM
ESRI's ArcGIS is the "industry" standard for creating maps in the GIS world, but it's by no means the only one out there. And If your main interest is cartography, then there are better solutions IMO.

If your looking to get into the "real world" mapping world, I recommend Manifold from Manifold Systems. Manifold is a full-on, professional level GIS, that does every-thing ArcGIS 9.2 (plus extensions) will do for a fraction of the cost. I believe the current price for the basic edition is $245.00. The "basic edition" is packed with so much functionality you could spend the next year just figuring the thing out. Seriously. And for $395.00 you can get the "super" edition that includes some great 3D terrain tools, topological commands, image manipulation...I think it even comes with the ability to publish your maps online through a proprietary webserver. Manifold also exports direclty to Illustrator which is awesome. http://www.manifold.net
Manifold also ships with some good world base map data. The learning curve isn't that steep either. After a solid weekend of working in it you will know how to compile a nice base-map.

Another option is to avoid buying a "real GIS" altogether and use Avenza's Mapublisher plugin and Illustrator. This plugin allows you to work with GIS files within Illustrator, query attributes, create labels, reference imagery et cetera. It's super powerful for a plugin and very common in the world of big wall maps. It's like a "mini-GIS". I use it along with ArcGIS and Illustrator. The downside is the price, which runs around $800 (if I remember correctly...don't quote me on that) http://www.avenza.com

Hopefully this helps. FM

09-05-2007, 03:55 AM
Not sure, but CC3 has a new map style out this month:


09-05-2007, 07:38 PM
Not sure, but CC3 has a new map style out this month:


Ralf really outdid himself with this month's Cartographer's Annual. I've been having fun playing with the 19th century city mapping tools.